Careers & Training, News

VTA continues its push for genuine licencing reform

With the current issues the industry is facing with driver shortages, training has come into the spotlight like never before. Our ageing truck driver workforce and difficulty in attracting young people into the profession has only served to exacerbate the problem even further. 

Currently, the average age of a truck driver is 57. What’s more, 20 per cent of truck drivers have already reached retirement age and less than one in five are aged under 30. It is still very much a male-dominated industry, with women representing only seven per cent of the truck driving workforce.

For the past four years, the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has been successfully running a heavy vehicle driver training program that’s aimed at raising the level of safety and professionalism of our nation’s truck drivers. 

The Victorian government funded program involves eight days of hands-on training. “We’ve put more than 225 people through the program, and they’re all working, they’re all in our industry and they’re all doing a fantastic job,” said VTA CEO Peter Anderson. 

“The VTA originally started this program to prove that the current system is inadequate and that we can deliver a better system. But we can’t get the bureaucrats to understand the degree of change that is required.

“We’re the only industry that’ll hand out a licence for $1000 and five hours of testing. We believe that’s inadequate to put drivers that are low risk and properly trained on the road.

“This is the plight of industry, because we know we can get good, smart people who know how to think and be smart on the road. Instead, we’re selling licences to people.”

As it stands, under the time-based graduated system, an aspiring truck driver can only attain the entry level heavy vehicle licence (Light Rigid) at the age of 19, after they have held a car driver’s licence for a year. It’s then another year to graduate to the next level. The VTA says this has led to a situation where driving skills are being learned on the job rather than prior to taking on the job.

“The current system is graduation through time, not experience. The VTA driver training program provides graduation through experience, not through time.

“To get a heavy vehicle licence at the moment, you just need 45 minutes behind the wheel and if you use the steering wheel and indicators correctly, then you pass.

“The only ‘real test’ is to see if you can reverse in a straight line for 50 metres. This is what’s wrong with the system. People are fearful of trucks on our roads – and rightly so,” Anderson added.  

“If you don’t have a truck licence, you can get one tomorrow, and you’re automatically labelled a ‘professional truck driver’ – but you’re driving a vehicle you know very little about. You know the road laws because you’re tested on that but you haven’t been tested on your skills of how to drive a heavy vehicle. For a car licence, you need 120 hours behind the wheel; yet for a truck licence, you need no time behind the wheel and yet we see trucks as more dangerous than cars. Heavy vehicle drivers should be the best drivers on the road.

“When I ran transport companies, for decades I used to hear ‘they’ll be a good driver in five years’ time’. Well, my wife and kids are on the road today, I want all truck drivers to be a safe driver now – not just in five years’ time!”

Among the reforms the VTA is pushing for is lowering the age at which people can begin their heavy vehicle training. The association wants to see career pathways created for people as young as 18. 

Females represent only seven per cent of truck drivers.

“This is about attracting people into our industry once they finish Year 12. If we put structure and training into place, then becoming a heavy vehicle driver becomes a more attractive proposition. We want to be able to get people straight out of school so we can train them on how to be a professional driver. I think that if we can promote truck driving as a professional career, then we’ll start to see increases in applications of 30-40 per cent. There’s no reason that an 18-year-old can’t get the training to drive a truck and then get additional training before moving into the next level of licencing,” said Anderson.

“In this industry, you’re guaranteed a job for life. It’s a career, not just a job. Imagine an 18-year-old completing the appropriate training before earning $80,000 a year and then sleeping in their own bed each night. They have a job that they’re going to have forever and the industry starts to become more attractive. Not everyone wants to be a carpenter or a lawyer. If we can put some credibility into the system about being a truck driver, then more people will want to come on board. 

“It then becomes a system in which we can attract people, rather than getting them through at 24 or 25, when they’ve already tried their hand at other jobs. If we can lift the standards, we can make more people see the career potential. What’s stopping this is the bureaucracy – they’ll continue to do all of these reports but nothing will change.”

Anderson pointed to a report on driver training completed in 1996 – and several reports in between. “Over 25 years on and still, nothing has changed – and the industry is calling for change.”

The VTA’s heavy vehicle driver training program was developed in conjunction with Armstrong’s Driver Education. The framework for the program is based on the model introduced by the Ministry of Transport in Ontario, Canada, and has been modified to meet Australian standards. 

Though the proposed framework is already being applied under the current program, the VTA wants to see proper and thorough heavy vehicle driver training become the norm.  

“Our course has 132 units that are quantifiable and all in writing. We’ve done all the hard work and we’re happy for them to use this framework. My counterparts in Queensland and the WA are all on the same page, we’re all trying to do the same thing. At the VTA, we would like to think that Victoria can lead the way,” Anderson said.

The VTA would like to see heavy vehicle training available from the age of 18, so people can begin their career in the industry once they finish school.

He explained that when it comes to applicants for the heavy vehicle driver training program, there are three key traits the VTA is looking for. “This program is looking for aptitude, awareness and attitude – and attitude is a big thing. We screen people before we accept them. If we believe that their attitude is dangerous, we won’t train them – not everybody has that awareness, aptitude or attitude to drive a heavy vehicle,” said Anderson.

“People often don’t understand what the intricacies are within our industry. There are over 40 different sectors in this industry and they all work separately, the only similarity is that they all involve heavy vehicles. The nature of the vehicle and how it operates are all different and people need to understand these nuances to drive the truck safely.” 

This screening process forms part of the VTA’s recommendations to the Victorian government. It is calling for a pre-screening process of a person’s ability to be safe on our roads to form part of heavy vehicle driver licencing reforms. “It means that people are excluded from being trained if they’re believed to be too dangerous to be on the road. This is about our industry becoming professional and acknowledging the skills that are required,” Anderson added.  

Recently, the VTA released a paper titled ‘Lifting the Standard – Heavy Vehicle Driver Training and Employment Pathways Review’. And it’s hoping that more people start to take notice, particularly in parliament. “The VTA has sent a copy of this review to Minister for Roads Ben Carroll MP and I am looking forward to our discussion. We’re hoping that he’ll read it and it’ll make the hairs stand up on his arms. We’re not getting the politicians jumping on this and asking what they have to do. On the one hand, yes we’re getting the funding for the program but on the other hand, we aren’t getting the change that illustrates what needs to be done,” explained Anderson. 

“We’re frustrated that we’re treading water and nothing is happening. And while nothing is happening, we have to keep pushing, have to continue to raise the issue, and continue to think of ways to try and influence those decision makers to help improve this industry.”

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